Harutoshi Fukui, the final Yamato 2202 interview

As the writer of Yamato 2202, Harutoshi Fukui has consistently had the most to say about it in one insightful interview after another. Inevitably, there had to be a last one. It was published over two consecutive issues of the official fan club magazine and brings an era to a thought-provoking close.

Harutoshi Fukui supported the story of Yamato 2202, Soldiers of Love

With the release of Chapter 7 near at hand, we had a heartfelt talk with him.

From Star Blazers/Yamato Magazine Vol. 2 (February 2019) and Vol. 3 (May 2019)

The added difference between present-day characteristics and those of 1978

Interviewer: How many years have passed since you became involved with the work of constructing and writing the Yamato 2202 series?

Fukui: It’s been about three and a half years since I started. I first heard about it before that. During that time, the quality of works desired by so-called anime fans has continued to improve. In particular, unlike terrestrial broadcasts that can be seen for free, the first place you could see 2202 was in theaters and on video, so the first question from the fan side is “Is it worth paying money to watch it?” Therefore, it definitely takes some time to produce.

Interviewer: What was the first thing that came to your mind when becoming part of the core staff for a big title like Space Battleship Yamato?

Fukui: I also worked on the original novel for Mobile Suit Gundam UC, and the fans would consider a guy who got to do both Gundam and Yamato to be pretty important, don’t you think? That was the first thing that came to mind. (Laughs) But it’s true that Yamato is a big title, and I also thought that it shouldn’t be done if it wasn’t going to be a big hit. So I looked back at 2199 and explored the room that it left open, then thought about how it could be mixed with Farewell to Yamato from 1978 to create something new, to feel like I was creating a new work.

Interviewer: Where did you utilize Farewell, and where did you decide to update it for 2202?

Fukui: The first challenge imposed upon me was to take the heat of Farewell, which was focused into two and a half hours, and expand it to all 26 episodes of 2202 while still making it a work with the same inherent concentration of emotion. The story takes its time to develop, but the tension must be maintained. In other words, I had to add a considerable amount of original elements not found in Farewell, Yamato 2, or later Yamato works.

One of those to be included was “the characteristics of the times.” Back when Farewell was screened in 1978, the meaning of sacrificing oneself to achieve something, as seen in the final scene with Kodai and Yuki, was completely different. Now, when you invoke the term “self sacrifice,” the first thing you think of is “suicide bombing,” isn’t it? Those words should be noble and beautiful, but because of simplistic terrorism and religious fanaticism, it’s become a keyword that steps into a place where humans shouldn’t go.

Therefore, I adopted the word “sacrifice” into 2202 along with all the positive and negative images the word carries on its shoulders. For example, Gatlantis has the idea that “Love destroys everything” and Zordar forces the devil’s choice upon Kodai. If you think rationally about it, it’s very strange. But sometimes people go off the rational path for someone they love. If I could depict that point properly, I thought I could surely attract a sympathy that becomes timeless.

In that sense, it doesn’t have to just be a simple remake of a past work if it contains a challenging element. I also think there were places where the fans who have loved Yamato for a long time have been confused by what they watched. Perhaps along the way it would become obvious that, though we on the production side were reviving Farewell with beautiful visuals made by modern anime technology, it would become obvious that we weren’t making 2202 for the sake of nostalgia.

When a person who felt various things from seeing Farewell in 1978 saw the same anime 40 years later, what feelings would come into their heart? 2202 was made to take a broad look at that point. It was quite difficult to reach this conclusion, and I ran into a lot of difficulties to get there. But that conviction didn’t move by even one millimeter in the finished product. I believe that will surely be conveyed to those who watch it to the end.

Daring to portray a cruelty that makes you want to avert your eyes

Interviewer: I thought this was going to be the Yamato I knew from the old days, but its machinations gave me a feeling of continual surprise.

Fukui: It’s very important to continue doing one thing, and by doing that Mobile Suit Gundam was a robot anime that became recognized as a national character. If it came to pass that nothing new was developed after Gundam was first broadcast and then 40 years later “We broke the long silence and did a remake” showing the white Gundam as is, I don’t think it would be as big as it is now. Gundam is always new because the history of the series has always been updated. Even if the RX-178-2 appears it’s still completely compatible, and it shines as the “first generation” of the many Gundams.

On the other hand, Yamato caused a social phenomenon and became a big star, then a very long blank period followed afterward. Yamato Resurrection (2009) and Yamato 2199 (2012) ended that blank, and now you can enjoy it as an anime work again. Thanks to the people who kept waiting throughout that blank period, I think it’s been confirmed that Yamato as a contender for 21st century business. But for young people, Yamato was “an anime watched by my mom and dad’s generation,” and it became “a work of nostalgia” during this blank period. Why is it a battleship with a deck and a waterline, even though it’s active in zero-G space? And they wonder why the youth at that time was so excited about it. Even if you make a sequel two decades into the 2000s just for the vain reason of “It’s an old masterpiece anime,” they’re not going to watch it.

When I saw the invasion of the White Comet Empire in Farewell, I thought “This is such a cruel thing” and I felt an indescribable feeling that went beyond that. The reality was that I glimpsed a dimension in which “You can depict human beings in a fictional story” and it was a surprise to see this unique expression of anime and movies. If I were to depict Farewell today, I wanted to recreate that surprise again, and that’s one of the motives that got me thinking I had to do 2202.

In the recent anime world, one famous example of an exciting work with a shocking hook is Puella Magi Madoka Magica. In the wake of that, even young anime fans say that the “cruelty in fiction” of a character’s death is now allowed again.

If I were to bring Farewell’s sense of despair into today’s social condition, it would be considerable cruelty. The prospect of self-sacrifice and the abyss of the heart makes you want to avert your eyes. If you have a loved one or a family and you’re asked, “Well, which one do you choose?” you don’t want to give an answer. I had to be ready to push that forward, front and center. Doing that wouldn’t guarantee that 2202 could catch up with the heat of Farewell in 1978, but once it was decided I had no choice but to do it.

Director Habara is a kind person, so he was quite concerned and kept asking, “Can we go this far?” But it wouldn’t be a complete work if we only went halfway, and the feeling was that everyone on the staff knew it in their gut.

Yamato questions loss in successive eras

Interviewer: The development of Farewell certainly had a big impact in 1978.

Fukui: Another point about Yamato’s dormant period is that there were many fans who only loved Yamato during that time, and didn’t flirt with any robot anime. When new Yamato content was born in 2202, I could see that they were always at the forefront of the response. It’s thanks to their support that Yamato could continue to this day, and I’m definitely conservative when I remember the intensity of the movement in those days. In addition to the renovations of characters and mecha in 2202, I had a feeling that depicting modern cruelty was going to be a bomb for such people.

Since Director Habara and other staff members were in that forefront, they asked, “Is it really okay to do this with Yamato?” many times. When the people at the forefront are part of the production side, it can end up as a simple commemorative project. One of the missions of 2202 was to open up Yamato for original content going forward, so in my mind I had to wield a “hatchet” to break everything up. And in order to wield it, I had to think of the last moments for Yamato and the crew in Farewell as no longer being set in stone.

Interviewer: The attitude I felt was that the ending wouldn’t be what is commonly referred to as a “depressing twist,” but rather a precise, literary tragedy that worked in the story as an inevitability.

Fukui: There was also a four-year passage of time that had accumulated, and a “series of losses” in the background that was not assumed at the time of Farewell. Bubble collapses, big events, and natural disasters happened many times. It’s not something pleasant, but this is a time when pain and sorrow and loss can be unconditionally sympathetic. In view of such social conditions, there’s also an aspect where you can produce a finale that’s easier to emphasize with. It may have been better to include the nostalgia that seemed to be around at that time, but that feeling disappeared in the second half. After all, it would cool down if we suddenly deviated from the policy we decided on.

The greatest achievement that came out of both Yamato and Gundam was the realization that “anime isn’t just watched by children.” Anime is a fictional story made of pictures, but it can function as a mirror of reality, and these two works proved it. Meanwhile, there was the miraculous phenomenon of the anime world opening up, where the quality of “being anime” gained a respect above all else.

It’s the idea that reality can be hard, so I just want to look at the complete fictional miniature garden called anime. It’s closely linked to the development of the anime world thus far, and it’s never a bad thing. However, it was the opposite factor that made Yamato and Gundam into hits that were accepted by the public. If what comes through the screen doesn’t make you think, “Is it okay to see something like this?” then I don’t think it can reach the characteristics of Yamato.

I haven’t changed this approach in either my Yamato or Gundam works. Yamato may have had a longer dormant period, but the image of the first TV series and Farewell are still strongly preserved. Also, there are more scenes that dig into human mentality than in Gundam, which is one of the reasons we had to dramatically transform Yamato in 2202.

Yamato and Gundam were the rebel children of the anime world back in the early days, and we absorbed that rebellious spirit. If I were to lean back in a comfortable chair in the anime world and only make “Japanimation content that represents Japan,” it would only result in something conservative and boring. Since it’s a historic work, I think it’s important from now on for it to continue being a rebellious child. In order to move the anime world forward, we have to keep betraying something somewhere.

Recreating the despair of Farewell without killing main characters

Interviewer: Did you have a hard time creating the climax for 2202?

Fukui: What the production side said was to base it on Farewell but let the main characters survive so it can connect to the next series. They never said, “Do a remake of Yamato 2.” That was a clever way of saying it. “Make a version of Farewell where the main characters don’t die” was an absurd order in the first place. (Laughs) But it would be interesting if I could depict a flow that gave the impression of Farewell, keeping feelings of both hope and despair at the end. I felt it would be a challenge. So after Kodai and Yuki disappear in 2202, the final episode was developed for them to return. By increasing and thoroughly writing “Investment characters” like Keyman who might continue as leads in the next series and then cutting off the limbs one by one, it recreates the feeling of despair from Farewell.

Interviewer: The story seems to have deepened with Gatlantis, the ultimate enemy, by digging deep into individual characters and reasons for the invasion.

Fukui: In Farewell, it wasn’t necessary to depict Gatlantis as humanoids equal to Earthlings. To the young people who were crazy about Yamato back then, its presence was a symbol of a society that could not be resisted which would eventually take over, so all they had to represent was absolute fear. Since 2202 consisted of 26 episodes, there were circumstances where the enemy had to have a purpose to advance the story. Of course, it’s necessary to give a reason, but in today’s science fiction works it’s impossible to just push something out and say, “It’s sort of like this.”

Also, the generation that was crazy about Farewell got incorporated into the social structure a long time ago, and the young Yamato fans who came in with 2199 are being pushed into a world that’s more restrictive than ours was at the time. The concept of what is justice and what is evil is much more complicated compared to 40 years ago.

Back then, the righteousness of young people saying “Adults don’t get it” and the resistance to oppression was about to hit the wall, but if you do that now it will spread to the whole world through social media in the blink of an eye, then instantly get hit and burned and damaged from all directions. In these times, when it comes to creating a convincing enemy with a reason to fight, you must carefully describe their character and motive.

There’s the bubble generation that was entrusted with the benefits of the booming economy, the generation that’s been surrounded by the digital world since they were born, an oppressed lost generation that’s sandwiched between both, and there’s intergenerational friction between all three. When a life is born whose purpose conflicts with the surrounding majority from the beginning, it’s impossible to form a society out of that, so there is every reason to expect conflict. And that reason must be something that anyone can understand. However, before I could look for a reason to sympathize with Gatlantis in that fight, they’ve already committed genocide against billions on an intergalactic scale.

First and foremost, you have to put yourself in a confident state of mind by saying, “I’m on the side of justice.” In the first Yamato TV series you want to get on board Yamato for the just cause of saving the Earth, and as the ship is torn apart in Farewell the story in the end is that you must accomplish your mission even at the cost of your own life. 2202 doesn’t follow the ending of Farewell since the characters survive, but I was conscious of trying to recreate the sense of “There’s no safe place for anyone.” At the end of tremendous loneliness and self-sacrifice, a miracle unfolds that makes it possible for Kodai and Yuki to return from the time fault, which I think gives us hope for the future that provides the same catharsis as in Farewell.

In Farewell, the main characters are alone, and while we see a different sort of development in this story where they are alone and breaking down, there is a similar sense of deeply grim determination, of standing together to reach for the possibilities that lie ahead which lead to catharsis in that last episode.

Interviewer: What did you get from Space Battleship Yamato?

Fukui: In Episode 13 of the first TV series, which was omitted from the movie version, the story is about a Gamilas pilot who is taken prisoner on Yamato. I personally think that this episode symbolizes all of Yamato. Almost the whole second half tells the story of Kodai’s past, and we found out that Gamilans are the same as human beings. At that moment, it becomes clear that they both lost something important and they’re fighting for the same thing.
World War II ended in 1945 and Yamato started airing in 1974, so teenagers who were watching Yamato were born in the postwar period. After a period of confusion, it was suddenly, “We lost the war, so let’s get along peacefully with the Americans who were our enemy,” so people could finally work and eat. But since the miserable memories were still clear, it wasn’t surprising that children would watch a war story at that time.

So the name Yamato was attached to a battleship that appeared in an SF anime. The result was that it didn’t just stop with that name. A critical sense was born, stabbing deep in our hearts, which asked, “What was the point of the war? What did that pain get us?” The things we’d turned away from had to be applied to the story. But that wasn’t the aim from the beginning, so you could say it was something like an accident. At the beginning they were just trying to create a space opera filled with big dreams.

The feelings on the makers side and the viewers side of Yamato were synergistic, and it became a vicarious experience of war, so to speak. The story was born from the power of the word Yamato, and everything they wanted to say was fully explained in Farewell. In order to explore the purpose of Yamato, once Farewell imposed an ending upon it, sequels were made and blank periods occurred over 40 years. It may be a coincidence, but Yamato has raised some heavy, vivid human memories. It was an anime that taught us something that adults didn’t, and I think that’s why young people at the time were so attracted to it and so enthusiastic. I think doing 2202 was all about depicting that properly and confidently.

Interviewer: What’s your current state of mind now that the long voyage of 2202 is coming to an end?

Fukui: At the moment (January 2019) the work has not all been completed yet. But I want to say thank you very much to the fans and the staff who stayed with us to the end. The act of trying to create a Yamato series based on Farewell in the 21st century was a miracle in the first place.

I think that mounting a new series featuring a World War II-era battleship as a space battleship that dealt with heavy themes like “What is it to be human? What is love?” was incredibly brave in an era of prosperity where a lightweight thing that’s fun and gets instant buzz on the Internet will lead to riches. That’s why I responded to this rare opportunity with all my energy. I can’t judge for myself in a tangible way how far I’ve been able to take it, so I’ll be glad if everyone enjoys it.

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

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